Friday, February 29, 2008

Last Refuge of the Scoundrel

The GOP has Representative Jack Kingston (R-GA) taking point in trotting out the attacks against Senator Obama; I saw him last week on Bill Maher mouthing the typical talking points the GOP is trying to embed in the American subconscious. Mostly 'unpatriotic' themes: his wife hates America, the Senator is a terrorist sympathizer, he's black, he's a Muslim, etc. Representative Kingston has the requisite plastic anchorman look for this job, but his skills as a front man for these attacks is so limited that I can't help but wonder if it's a secret ploy to make us all complacent about how poorly the GOP will campaign this summer and fall. This clip of him 'slamming' Obama for not wearing a flag lapel pin, all while not wearing one himself, is so laughable that it completely neutralizes him as an effective spokesman. I doubt we'll be seeing him on the TeeVee any more.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Mo' Money

It is estimated that by 2010, if not earlier, the direct cost of the Iraq war will exceed $600 Billion. There could have been a better option.

First the government could have taken that money, and used it to guarantee and purchase state and municipal bonds earmarked for school construction and repair, and other infrastructure repairs, such as bridges, water and sewer systems, all of which are falling apart. Set up a program where the states sell $550 billion worth of bonds to the federal government at, say 4.5% and the states then use that money as follows:

1. Repair and replace every last school needing repair and replacement in this country. Total cost: $112 Billion.

2. Repair every single substandard bridge in the entire country. Total cost: $188 Billion.

3. Repair and replace every single worn out water pipe in the entire country. Total cost: $250 Billion.

The government then earns $27 billion a year in income on those bonds (at 4.5%), and has $50 billion left over to boot. What could be done with that $27 billion a year annual income?

Well, the current population of Iraq is 27 million, so the US government could have cut a check of $1,000 dollars a year to every single man woman and child in the country, in perpetuity. This may not sound like a lot, but in a country where the Gross National Income is $2,000 per person, that amounts to a 50% income raise. All for a promise to leave us the hell alone.

And then you could use the last $50 Billion to bribe Saddam and every one of his henchman to leave Iraq and move to a glorious palace built in the Tuvalu Islands; once those islands sink beneath the ocean in a few more years (thanks to Global Warming,) our Saddam problem would have been solved.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

New Score

Six months ago I posted on the phrase 'Why is there evil in the world,' and compared the number of Google hits for that phrase with the number of hits for the phrase's opposite, 'Why is there good in the world.' I came up with the following:

'Why is there evil in the world': 967 hits
'Why is there good in the world': 681 hits.

Both phrases require assumptions to ask them, namely whether the world (Or God, as a commenter on Janni's blog pointed out) is inherently Good or Evil. If you ask why is there evil in this world, then the assumption is that the world is an inherently good place. I took the search results to be a somewhat tongue in cheek gauge of hope (or hopelessness.)

I went back and checked out the results again, but this time I went all the way to the end of the lists, and allowed Google to list duplicated entries and such, to get a true count. The new results should encourage those who have hope:

'Why is there evil in the world': 993 hits
'Why is there good in the world': 44 hits

So this is the new baseline, as this is a different methodology from before. Clearly the drop in the 'good' category is due to my revised methodology. I'll try to remember to repeat this study in another six months, maybe right before the election.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Like Rabbits

Yesterday was President’s Day, so in honor of that I will write about something that relates to one positive thing our President has done: PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS relief. I will even give our President the benefit of my (large doubts): I believe that he pushes for the program because he honestly thinks that it is the right thing to do, and not just because he is engaging in cynical political calculus.

The program is up for renewal and expansion, but the fights over it are just starting:

‘Conservatives Angry at Changes in AIDS Funding

Religious anti-abortion groups are angry over proposed changes in the Bush administration's global AIDS relief program, which has reportedly provided lifesaving medicine to 1.4 million people worldwide...

...On Friday, Bush will begin a weeklong tour in Africa, pressing for a new five-year commitment of $30 billion. Concerned Women for America, along with other conservative religious groups, such as the Family Research Council and the Population Research Institute, are encouraging Bush to veto the bill in its current form.

"It would be better if President Bush had never proposed PEPFAR, than to have $50 billion hijacked by abortion-promoting, chastity-mocking, anti-people groups," said Steven Mosher, president of the Population Research Institute...'

The Population Research Institute has also been in the news lately for another issue: the “demographic winter”; the idea that declining birth rates will lead to depopulation and societal collapse. This has been the latest argument of groups that go beyond opposing abortion rights and argue for the elimination of contraception access, groups such as The Population Research Institute.

An article in the latest issue of The Nation, ‘Missing: The “Right” Babies,’ goes over this phenomenon:

‘…Mosher, president of the Catholic anticontraception lobbyist group Population Research Institute (PRI), describes his grim vision of Europe's future: fields will lie fallow and economies will wither. A great depression will sink over the continent as it undergoes "a decline that Europe hasn't experienced since the Black Death." The comeuppance has a name, one being fervently hawked among a group of Christian-right "profamily" activists hoping to spark a movement in secular Europe. It's called the "demographic winter," a more austere brand of apocalypse than doomsayers normally trade in, evoking not a nuclear inferno but a quiet and cold blanket of snow in which, they charge, "Western Civilization" is laying itself down to die…’

This is all less about a slavish following of scripture and more about xenophobia. These arguments have been going on for some time and are becoming heard in the corridors of power:

‘…At the national level, in 2004 Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi offered a "baby bonus" of about $1,000 to parents who had a second child…’


‘…The racial preferences behind Berlusconi's "baby bonus" came into embarrassing relief when immigrant parents were accidentally sent checks for their offspring and then asked to return the money: the Italian government hadn't meant to promote those births…’

The general fear is hordes of Muslims taking over the world. And it isn’t limited to ‘Christian’ nations. From the Jerusalem Post:

‘…It may be true that the world is becoming overpopulated, although some countries in Europe are encountering the opposite problem of aging populations with insufficient young people, and that is what is happening in Jewish communities as well. Everywhere except in Israel, the Jewish population is diminishing, with the result that we are not even reproducing ourselves. Committed Jews should be concerned about the depletion of the Jewish population, especially in light of the fact that a third of the world Jewish population was exterminated in the Holocaust. Rather than making up for that loss we seem to be adding to it, especially when we take into account those Jews lost to us through assimilation and intermarriage.
The proposal of the Rabbinical Assembly teshuva, therefore, is that Jewish couples who can have children and do not suffer from specific physical, mental or other problems preventing it should add one more child or even more to the two required by Halacha, a "mitzva child," to replenish the Jewish world and assure future Jewish existence…’

Hannah Farber at the Jspot comments:

‘What strikes me about these two attempts to affect the way we make the most intimate, important decisions of our lives is that they are both based in fear and sorrow…

…Since I began working in the Jewish community, I’ve heard this advice again and again, and it never fails to get my ovaries in a twist, not least because of the implied (or explicit) criticism of professional women (never of professional men) who postpone childrearing to accommodate their career goals. I say: if the rabbis are so committed to making this a communal issue, the rabbis should raise the children. In fact, given their comfortable salaries and high communal status, they have no excuse: they should be adopting and converting children by the dozen. Given the impressive recent developments in medicine that prolong human life, I wouldn’t excuse any rabbi under sixty from performing this mitzvah. Wouldn’t that make a fine statement of commitment to the Jewish future?...’

Monday, February 18, 2008

Pranskter God

"Anyone else have trouble sleeping with that thought? The idea that God might be...fucking with our heads?"

This is one of Bill Hicks more famous rants, riffing on the idea of a prankster God; one who is engaged in the affairs of men, but not always in a benevolent way. Needless to say, this is not a traditional Christian way of viewing the divine, though it is certainly forgivable from someone who died of cancer at the age of 32.

However: Jennifer Berenson Maclean in 'The Divine Trickster: A Tale of Two Weddings in John,' in the book, 'A Feminist Companion to John:'

'...Common traits [of tricksters in literature] include the figure's use of deceptive speech, his ambiguous or liminal status, his ability to invert situations, often to increase his own status, his role as messenger of the gods and bringer of essential gifts to human culture, his transgressions of established boundaries and his role in shaping culture. All these characteristics are found in [The Gospel of] John's presentation of Jesus...'

Jesus as a Divine Prankster. It actually works in the context of Jesus' first sign, turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana, (John 2:1-12). The wine runs out at the wedding that Jesus, his mother, brothers and several disciples are attending. Jesus' mother makes Jesus aware of the situation, and after some controversial words, Jesus converts a vast amount of water into excellent wine. But it's a bizarre sign, theologically. First of all, no one is made aware of the miracle, other than Jesus, some of his disciples, and the readers of the Gospel. The wedding guests are never told of it, and their only comment is that is strange for the host to wait to bring out the best wine until after all the guests are good and hammered. So the vast majority of the people (including Jesus' mother) are tricked. In addition, this sign has no one being saved, healed or raised from the dead. And nothing is asked of the people who benefit from the sign; no faith is demanded. Jesus just converts water to wine and doesn't tell anyone about it.

Now plenty of Biblical scholars have written encyclopedias about this sign story, so interpretations are easy to come by, and many make sense; New wine replacing old as a metaphor for the new law replacing the old; the story is focusing on signs for the disciples and not anyone else, as that is who is being discussed at that point in the Gospel; Jesus being introduced as the Messianic Bridegroom (and therefore responsible for producing the wine), etc. But the question still remains: why that (unique) story, why not another one that would make a clearer point, and not risk having Jesus seen as supporting rampant drunkenness at weddings (as many scholars have complained.)

The analogy that Maclean raises is with the wedding of Jacob. Jacob worked for his Uncle for seven years in the hopes of marrying the hot babe, Rachael, but at the last minute Lathan, Rachael's father, substitutes Leah in Jacob's honeymoon bed. By the time Jacob wakes up, it's too late, and Jacob, who is widely shown throughout Genesis as being a trickster himself, has himself been tricked. Imagery of Jacob is prominent in the first 4 chapters of John, from the calling of the disciples in chapter 1 to Jesus' encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well of Jacob in chapter 4. According to Maclean, The 'Trickster' Jacob is presented in the Gospel of John as representing the existing nation of Israel; Jesus is presented as the 'trickster' Lathan: the one who tricks the trickster.

But why this analogy, Jesus as Trickster or Prankster? Tricksters and pranksters can only operate at the bottom end of a hierarchy; trickery and pranks are the only means to work in a system rigged against them. One only needs to read the stories of women in the Old Testament to understand that - women use their wits to make things happen; physical power and oratory are not tools available to them as second class citizens. Think of the mother and stepmothers of Moses, secretly defying the laws of the Pharaohs to ensure Moses' survival. And, to Maclean's (and Raymond Brown's) point, think of the community that wrote the Gospel of John - by the end of the first century, a proto-Christian community struggling against a much larger and more powerful Jewish community from which it sprung. The first four chapters of John can almost be read as a story of the founding of that community.

Throughout the Bible, God roots for young underdogs, those without power and those who are marginalized. And throughout the Bible, the only tools available to those at the bottom are tricking those at the top. Perhaps Bill Hicks was onto something; a Prankster God, but one who rewards those who trick the powerful.

"I am a prankster God, I'm killing me..."

Tomorrow is the 14th anniversary of Bill Hick's death; a tribute is being held at the Gotham Comedy Club here in New York.

Friday, February 15, 2008

More Family Circus

All is not happy in the land of Christian Fundamentalism. A string of stories that have come up in the past week is pointing to a wonderful class-based schism that is developing in both the Christian Right and the Republican Party.

Back in January, Doug Wead, a religious advisor to the first President Bush, helped leak a story on his blog that Governor Huckabee accepted donations from the Televangelist Kenneth Copeland. The mainstream press dutifully ran with that story, because Kenneth Copeland is under investigation by U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), as part of a campaign he is undertaking investigating the finances of six different televangelists. A few days ago, Doug Wead posted again in his blog, criticizing Senator Grassley for his investigations.

So what is that all about? Why is Mr. Wead outing Televangelists one minute and defending them the next, and why is a conservative Republican Senator going after these televangelists in the first place?

Well, guess what, it’s an election year. This is all just a peak at what is going on behind the scenes. Mr. Wead outed Kenneth Copeland as a way of attacking Huckabee, and on how the Governor failed to properly court evangelicals:

‘…When seeking to establish a base among evangelical voters, presidential contender, Governor Mike Huckabee, made a big mistake. It is one that many presidential wannabes have made before him. He went over the heads of the evangelical leaders of influence and talked directly to the people. It works well with most constituencies, Catholics, Labor, Jews, Hispanics, Women but it never works with Blacks and it never works with evangelicals either. It cost Mike Huckabee the presidential primary in South Carolina and it will probably cost him the nomination…’

Pretty fun stuff: proper obeisance wasn’t paid. The connection with Kenneth Copeland is mentioned as a ‘too little too late’ comment. But the press got hold of it, and, lo and behold, Huckabee got to spend a bunch of time on the Sunday chat shows defending his relationship with the preacher Copeland. Clearly the Bush family doesn’t like Huckabee, because the good governor is playing respect to evangelicals, but not their leaders. There’s a proper way to do things, after all…

But where does Senator Grassley fit into all of this? Because just as there is a schism in the party, there is also a fight brewing among the churches. You see, Senator Grassley is not just the Ranking Member of the Senate Finance Committee; he also helps run the International Christian Leadership Council, otherwise know as ‘The Family.’ All of the six televangelists that he is going after are proponents of the ‘prosperity doctrine,’ that God rewards you in this life with health and wealth. As such, they are almost certainly ripe for accounting investigations, though Mr. Wead argues otherwise:

‘…At least the six televangelists are consistent. That is, they truly believe their doctrines, namely, that God wants his people healthy, wealthy and forgiven. It is something they preached when they were poor. Take away their wealth and put them in jail and they would still preach it. And incidentally, six more televangelists would emerge because it is not a concept forced on a gullible public as the media would like to believe, it is driven by millions of Christians who subscribe to this particular Biblical interpretation, rightly or wrongly. The televangelist are in some respects the most accountable of all ministries, they literally rise and fall on their last sermon, which pays all their bills.

But Grassley apparently believes it is false doctrine, a dodge. So why then does he maintain a mansion on the Potomac? As a member of the White House senior staff, I was encouraged to come to Cedars and enjoy its pool and tennis courts and its spectacular view of Washington and use it for my own personal relaxation. It was a place to host important guests coming in for the National Prayer Breakfast. But why is it wrong for Kenneth Copeland, for example, to practice what he has publicly preached all his life and right for Senator Grassley to violate his own conscience?...’

So apparently a class-based fight is brewing between different politically connected fundamentalist groups. We’ve got a series of Bush-family-defended televangelists on one side and ‘The Family’ on the other side. As Jeff Sharlet puts it in the Reveler:

‘…But more important, for those of us interested in seeing beyond the image of a monolithic Christian Right presented by mainstream media, Wead, Grassley, and most of all Posner are revealing the class-based factionalism that pervades the American fundamentalist movement…’

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Hey, Good Looking

From the top, the 'Looking Good for Jesus' Travel Kit, Bubble Bath, Change Purse ('Show Him the Money') and Lip Balm.

Sad to say, these wonderful products are no longer available in Singapore. Apparently the Catholic Church there got upset and made the retailer pull all of these products from the shelves. Not to fear; any Singaporean who wants to look good for the Lord can still order these from the internet.

H/T Jesus' General

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

All The News That Gives You Fits

Well, gee, let's all take a looksie at what's in the paper today. Why, on page one it's this:

Senate Votes to Expand Spy Powers

'...WASHINGTON — After more than a year of wrangling, the Senate handed the White House a major victory on Tuesday by voting to broaden the government’s spy powers and to give legal protection to phone companies that cooperated in President Bush’s program of eavesdropping without warrants.

One by one, the Senate rejected amendments that would have imposed greater civil liberties checks on the government’s surveillance powers. Finally, the Senate voted 68 to 29 to approve legislation that the White House had been pushing for months. Mr. Bush hailed the vote and urged the House to move quickly in following the Senate’s lead...'

Well, that's all rather depressing. Let's check up on sports, shall we:

Goodell and Specter Ready to Meet

'...N.F.L. Commissioner Roger Goodell will travel to Washington on Wednesday to meet with Senator Arlen Specter for a discussion about the league’s investigation into the Patriots’ spying on other teams.

“I have a lot of questions,” Specter said. “I’m hoping to get some answers.”

Specter, of Pennsylvania, is the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee. He first requested a meeting with Goodell in a letter in November. Specter wanted to know why the league had destroyed all evidence in the spying case and whether there was any indication that the Patriots had cheated when they played the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX...'

h/t John Cole, who adds:

'...There is a very real and perverse possibility that the NFL will face tougher sanctions for spying on practice squads and covering it up than the telecoms and this President will face for spying on the citizenry and lying about it...'

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

That which Pisseth Understanding

Pastor Steven L Anderson, pastor of Faithful Word Baptist Church in Tempe, Arizona, expounding on the King James Bible phrase, "him that pisseth against the wall." Definitely the most idiotic and hilarious bit of sermon that I’ve ever heard.

Pastor Anderson helpfully provides us with a number of things to discuss. First of all is the slavish use in certain fundamentalist churches of the original King James Bible, viewing it as the authentic word of God. The King James Only movement is quite popular in this country, and is a natural result of people who strive to take scripture literally, without pausing to consider what exactly the term literal actually means.

This poses problems, not the least of which is that the King James Version (KJV) is obviously only an English translation, thereby eliminating access to the Bible to the majority of the world that doesn’t read English. Of course, this is not a problem to those who seriously believe that people who don’t read English are condemned to Hell. But another more subtle issue is the evolving nature of the English language. The original KJV dates back to 1611 (with regular updates occurring since then) but the Jacobean English spoken and written back then is different than the English today, and not just with the second person pronouns that still existed at that time (thee and thou, instead of modern English’s co-opting of you and yours). Grammatically there is a massive difference: word order.

Today, English uses a ‘SVO’ word order: subject – verb – object; I marry you. But that is recent, and for most of its ‘life’ English used an ‘SOV’ word order: subject – object - verb; I thee wed (and, ‘til death do us part). This is identical to Japanese, Korean, Hindi, and, most relevantly, Latin. An English speaker relying on the KJV for an ‘English’ translation is about as logical as the same speaker relying on a Japanese translation. You’re actually much better off making everyone in your congregation learn the original Biblical languages of Hebrew and Greek, although the problem with that is the same as with English: Hebrew and Greek have changed radically in the past 2-3000 years.

But all this pails in theological significance to the important point of having the quintessence of masculinity in God’ Eye be about being able to pee standing up.

The above would be an example of a sermon that would not win the Virginia Theological Seminary’s John Hines Preaching Award. However, the sermon that did win this year was by my brother, Mike:

‘…Preaching on the 10th chapter of the Gospel of Luke, Kinman focused his remarks on God’s radical imperative for Christians to connect with and love one another, beginning with, according to Kinman, the simple act of eye contact. “Not making eye contact” said Kinman, “is the mantra of urban living… when we make eye contact with someone, we make a connection. We establish relationship. We invite them into our lives. When we do that, we become vulnerable… and vulnerability compromises safety.”

“Christ’s call to us to make eye contact,” continued Kinman, “is to venture into the neighborhoods of poverty and literally to look the ‘we’ who live there in the eyes, and listen to them and learn from them… not to drive by or drive around but to gaze on people on society’s margins with compassion, to bind their wounds and love them extravagantly.”…’

Congratulations to Mike on this wonderful award of recognition, even if he can't be bothered to email me about it, and I have to find out about it third-hand. He does complain about not having the time to write in his blog (though he spends time writing and moderating here.) If he started posting his sermons, though, then I would be able to actually read them, and maybe he wouldn't feel so bad about waiting three months between posts.

I'd much rather watch a Youtube of him preaching.

Shorter 'The Wire'

We are all Fucked.

We're latecomers to this show, having just started watching it only about a month ago on DVD. But now we're halfway through season three. It's engrossing and some of the best TV we've ever seen. Kind of like that sick thrill one gets watching a building burn down, except it's our entire country.

Scarlett Johansson Nude

(Let's see how many hits from Google searches this post gets...)

One of the more idiotic twists of this primary season is the story of Jason Rae, a 21 year old College Junior who is one of the almost eight hundred ‘super delegates’ that will help to decide the Democratic nominee for President. To woo him, the Clinton campaign has sent over Chelsea Clinton to have breakfast and had Bill Clinton call him on his cell phone. The Obama Campaign has had John Kerry give him a call.

Jason Rae has been a member of the DNC, which gets him his ‘super delegate’ status, since he was 17. The rules apparently allow someone as young as 14, at least from the state of Wisconsin.

Jason Zengerle of the New Republic notes::

‘…While Hillary has Bill and Chelsea making her case to Rae, it looks like Obama has . . . John Kerry. Uh, two words of advice for the Obama people: Scarlett Johansson…’

Monday, February 11, 2008


I’m spending this week making some small changes to this blog, including updating the links on the right, which I will cover over the next few days. But one of the elements I am adding is a list of books that I’ve been reading or have recently read. I’ll keep the list updated as I can, adding new ones and eliminating old ones. I’ll try to keep the list to around ten.

One of the books is a Christmas Gift, The World Without Us; most have heard of it, if not read it. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but it deals with the collapse of the built environment, ruins, and the ephemerality of our artifacts – all topics that interest me – so my liking it should come as no surprise. The book primarily uses all of that fun stuff to hide a more aggressive environmental message, going so far as to end with a chapter covering the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement and the One Child Policy. So, for instance, if every human female from now on would have only one child, by the end of this century the global population would be a quarter of what it is today, with the corresponding reduction in consumption and pollution, goodness and light.

It’s a radical but not-new idea. It’s also little too Malthusian in scope – if consumption of resources is the problem, then eliminating people is not the necessary solution. Cutting consumption obviously is; and if everyone in aggregate consumed a third less, then you wouldn’t have to get rid of a single person to reduce consumption and pollution by a third.

But children do consume, and it’s a surprisingly unaddressed issue in our land of massive consumption combined with an awareness of the evils of that consumption. In short, which has a more positive future impact on the environment – a household getting rid of a car (taking mass transit, walking more) or a household deciding to not have kids (with the corresponding elimination of food consumption, diapers, plastic toys and whatnot)?

That question will most likely remain unanswered because it’s too emotionally fraught, and questions of consumption remain addressed at the fringes only; people use canvas bags instead of plastic, but they still buy the same amount of crap to fill them. Anyone who talks about getting rid of their car in this country is viewed as a freak, unless you are fortunate, like me, to live in a city with abundant mass transit; New York City is one of a very few cities in this country that provide that option, and 80% of the population of Manhattan doesn’t own a car.

So heaven help anyone who chooses not to have a child for such ethical reasons. They are perceived as well and truly mad, if not as downright selfish individuals.


One of the many and various reasons people have kids is a fear of loneliness in old age; a feeling that, once it’s too late, you’ve missed the boat. Many people look at their lives with feelings of accomplishment and think, ‘Hey, raising kids sounds cool, but so does leaning how to wind-surf, and I’ve got a lot of other things that I’m doing that I would rather do than deal with child rearing.’ But then the doubts set in; you look at images of grandparents and think that, damn, that looks cool. I’d better get going on all of this right now, before it’s too late. I don’t want to end up alone rocking on the porch of the nursing home.

Unfortunately for those who proselytize that everyone should have kids, that’s not how it works; several studies indicate otherwise. People’s happiness in old age vis-à-vis children is independent of whether or not they had them. It’s dependent on whether or not they wanted them. The highest rates of happiness and lowest rates of loneliness are among those who decided they really want kids, and had them, and also those who decided they really didn’t want to have kids, and didn’t have them. The ‘happiness’ rates of those two groups were identical. Less happy are those who wanted kids, and were unable to have them. At the very bottom are those who ended up discovering they didn’t want to have kids, and had them anyways. Life sucks for them at the nursing home.

These studies also show that among the elderly who had kids when they were younger, happiness is entirely dependent on the relationship they have with them currently as adults, and not the relationship they had with them when the kids were young. But the rates of happiness are no different than with those elderly who didn’t have kids but have a large group of adult friends and other family to hang out with.

And, yes, not having kids is statistically selfish: Childless couples are happier:

'...Besides, what some parents gain in intimacy with their children, they lose in intimacy with their partners. Hanson says, "Research has shown that on the average the greatest challenge to a couple is becoming parents. Many marriages hold together for a few years when the child is young, but they've been strained beyond repair by everything that comes from having kids and the couple divorces, maybe by the time the kid reaches first grade. Some people think they will save their relationship by having children. It almost never happens." He cites a study by John Gottman, a renowned expert on marriage at the University of Washington, which estimates that couples have eight times more arguments after becoming parents. Hanson says he's seen this in his life as well as his practice. "Many couples overcome all this and having children brings them closer together. That's certainly true for my wife and myself. But during the early years -- our kids are now 15 and almost 13 -- boy, we quarreled and were emotionally distant and troubled in our marriage like we'd never been. We argued about all the issues that new parents commonly argue about -- how to raise the children, who is doing more, the inevitable lack of time for an intimate relationship."

Cain reprints one of those 1975 letters sent to Ann Landers in her book: "I am 40, and my husband is 45. We have twin children under 8 years of age. I was an attractive, fulfilled career woman before I had these kids. Now I'm an overly exhausted nervous wreck who misses her job and sees very little of her husband. He's got a 'friend,' I'm sure, and I don't blame him. Our children took all the romance out of our marriage. I'm too tired for sex, conversation or anything."

Such alienation is less likely when people don't have children. "Statistics show childless couples are happier," Cain says. "Their lives are self-directed, they have a better chance of intimacy, and they do not have the stresses, financial and emotional, of parenthood." ...'

McCain: Like Hope, But Different

This is why Senator McCain will loose the general election. He can't even win primaries without resorting to bogus inside politics, AFTER he's become the obvious nominee. He remains 0 for 3 in the primaries and caucuses this weekend, though Washington's caucuses are still up in the air because of the bogus calls.

And it's not just the war being hung around his neck like an anchor. This sort of aggressive and memorable viral video wont appear from any Republicans this election cycle; sophisticated humor isn't their forte.

Video via Americablog; it parodies the original Obama video.

And if all else fails, all the Democratic nominee has to do is print up several million copies of this photograph:

Sunday, February 10, 2008


Pie Iesu domine, dona eis requiem
Pie Iesu domine,...
...dona eis requiem.
Pie Iesu domine,...
...dona eis requiem.

The Revealer links to an article recently published in the LA Times, 'What Chores Would Jesus Do?,' a piece on the 'New Monasticisim.' It's an excellent article, and it covers an aspect of contemporary Christianity that gets almost no play in the media in this country. (Because of the current state of religious journalism, one can be forgiven for thinking that there are only three religious beliefs in this country: 'Fundamentalist' Christians, Banal forms of Deism, and Hardcore Atheists.)

'...Moving in last January, they pledged to spend one year together, learning to become true followers of Christ. They would give generously, love unconditionally. They would exchange their middle-class ways for humility and simplicity, forgoing Hardee's fries, new CDs, even the basic comfort of privacy.

"The focus has to be on God and the way of life he has set out for us, as opposed to the way we want to live, which is very selfish," Jeromy Emerling said.

A few months into the experiment, at a weekly house meeting, Jake Neufeld framed the vision this way: "Church is not something we attend. It's something we are."...'

And it ends up being a very difficult slog for them, if not impossible. Which is good: Being a Christian shouldn't be easy. The article gets laughable for a while, as this group of people struggle with consumer choices:

'...Some monastic communities pool their resources and renounce private property. The Billings friends chose to control their own finances, though they shared equally in rent, utility and grocery bills. They all said they wanted to consume less, spend less, so they could give away more. Yet they found it unexpectedly hard to give up little comforts.

Each family had come to the house with a refrigerator, so they now had two. They sat on a leather couch to watch Bible study videos -- and Jennifer Aniston comedies. Their pantry was filled with bulk beans, but they splurged on kiwi fruit, reduced-fat Cheez-Its, mint-chip ice cream.

When Phyllis, trying to be diligent about budgeting, refrained from buying a $5 pacifier for her baby, she stewed all day, questioning how much she must sacrifice to live up to the ideal of a simple life.

"Do we want to be simple about how many outfits our kids have? Or how nice the furniture is?" she demanded. "How many kinds of salad dressing are in the fridge?"

Phyllis proposed a cap on discretionary spending -- perhaps $250 to $300 per adult. Excess income would go into a community account, to be given away. Everyone nodded approval. Months later, though, they still had not put the plan into effect, or even agreed on a definition of discretionary: Did that include car insurance? Cellphone bills? What about Christmas gifts?...'

What's missing from the article, and maybe from these people's understanding, is that they haven't yet escaped. They're still playing by the rules of a consumer culture, thinking that the answer to 'being the church' is by cutting spending by 'X' percent, or watching fewer hours of TV each day. You're still obsessing about numbers and analyzing your life through numbers that way; the numbers may be smaller, but it's all about the numbers.

Still, though the experiment comes close to failing, there are noble things that result, and I'm impressed by these people, despite their love for Jennifer Aniston movies. Following a life in Christ is essentially an impossible thing to do, yet after a year of this, these people are honest about their successes and failures, and some vow to persevere, even as others abandon the exercise.

Family Circus Follow Up

Some brief notes, following up from the post below. Behold the Nietzsche Family Circus, a site that pairs a random Family Circus cartoon with a random quote from Friedrich Nietzsche. Thanks to Paul for the tip.

Jeff Sharlet, the author of the Harpers article I mentioned below, posted a comment alerting me to his book which is coming out on May 20th, The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power. I've already preordered it, and I urge you all to do the same. Mr. Sharlet also edits a website, The Revealer, 'A Daliy Review of Religion and the Press,' for the NYU Center for Religion and Media. I don't envy someone trying to tackle the insipid quality of religious journalism in this country.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Family Circus *Updated Below*

Good Golly, yesterday was the National Prayer Breakfast. Most outside the beltway aren't all that familiar with it, other than perhaps hearing it mentioned on the nightly news once a year and assuming it's some banal photo-op exercise for members of congress to appear pious.

Far from it. The National Prayer Breakfast is the one public event held each year by a secretive religious organization that dominates Washington, DC politics.

Meet the Family:

'...The Fellowship is one of the most secretive, and most powerful, religious organizations in the country. Its connections reach to the highest levels of the U.S. government and include ties to the CIA and numerous current and past dictators around the world...'

Some History:

'...The Family was founded in Seattle in 1935 by Abraham Vereide, a Norwegian immigrant and traveling preacher who had been working with the city's poor, and who feared that Socialist politicians were about to take over Seattle's municipal government. Prominent members of Seattle's business community recognized his success with those who were "down and out" and asked him to give spiritual direction to their group who were "up and out." He organized Christian prayer breakfasts for politicians and businessmen that included anti-Communism and anti-union discussions. He was subsequently invited to set up similar meetings among political and business leaders in San Francisco and Chicago. By 1942, the organization had moved headquarters to Washington, DC, where it helped create breakfast groups in the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives. In 1944, the organization's name was changed to International Christian Leadership, then in 1972, to The Fellowship Foundation. It was at this time that the group's leaders decided to lower the Fellowship's public profile by decentralizing its leadership.

The organization has been criticized for its relationships with dictators, including Brazilian dictator Marshal Artur da Costa e Silva, General Suharto of Indonesia, Salvadoran general Carlos Eugenios Vides Casanova, and Honduran general Gustavo Alvarez Martinez...'

Back in 2003, Jeffrey Sharlet working for Harpers magazine went undercover into the group's headquarters in Washington, DC:

'...Ivanwald, which sits at the end of Twenty-fourth Street North in Arlington, Virginia, is known only to its residents and to the members and friends of the organization that sponsors it, a group of believers who refer to themselves as “the Family.” The Family is, in its own words, an “invisible” association, though its membership has always consisted mostly of public men. Senators Don Nickles (R., Okla.), Charles Grassley (R., Iowa), Pete Domenici (R., N.Mex.), John Ensign (R., Nev.), James Inhofe (R., Okla.), Bill Nelson (D., Fla.), and Conrad Burns (R., Mont.) are referred to as “members,” as are Representatives Jim DeMint (R., S.C.), Frank Wolf (R., Va.), Joseph Pitts (R., Pa.), Zach Wamp (R., Tenn.), and Bart Stupak (D., Mich.). Regular prayer groups have met in the Pentagon and at the Department of Defense, and the Family has traditionally fostered strong ties with businessmen in the oil and aerospace industries. The Family maintains a closely guarded database of its associates, but it issues no cards, collects no official dues. Members are asked not to speak about the group or its activities.

The organization has operated under many guises, some active, some defunct: National Committee for Christian Leadership, International Christian Leadership, the National Leadership Council, Fellowship House, the Fellowship Foundation, the National Fellowship Council, the International Foundation. These groups are intended to draw attention away from the Family, and to prevent it from becoming, in the words of one of the Family's leaders, “a target for misunderstanding.” The Family's only publicized gathering is the National Prayer Breakfast, which it established in 1953 and which, with congressional sponsorship, it continues to organize every February in Washington, D.C. Each year 3,000 dignitaries, representing scores of nations, pay $425 each to attend. Steadfastly ecumenical, too bland most years to merit much press, the breakfast is regarded by the Family as merely a tool in a larger purpose: to recruit the powerful attendees into smaller, more frequent prayer meetings, where they can “meet Jesus man to man.”...'

His entire article is online here, and I strongly urge everyone to read it. I did several months ago on a train ride home, and ended up frightened beyond belief:

'...At the 1990 National Prayer Breakfast, George H.W. Bush praised Doug Coe [the nominal head of the organization - ed.] for what he described as “quiet diplomacy, I wouldn't say secret diplomacy,” as an “ambassador of faith.” Coe has visited nearly every world capital, often with congressmen at his side, “making friends” and inviting them back to the Family's unofficial headquarters, a mansion (just down the road from Ivanwald) that the Family bought in 1978 with $1.5 million donated by, among others, Tom Phillips, then the C.E.O. of arms manufacturer Raytheon, and Ken Olsen, the founder and president of Digital Equipment Corporation. A waterfall has been carved into the mansion's broad lawn, from which a bronze bald eagle watches over the Potomac River. The mansion is white and pillared and surrounded by magnolias, and by red trees that do not so much tower above it as whisper. The mansion is named for these trees; it is called The Cedars, and Family members speak of it as a person. “The Cedars has a heart for the poor,” they like to say. By “poor” they mean not the thousands of literal poor living barely a mile away but rather the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom: the senators, generals, and prime ministers who coast to the end of Twenty-fourth Street in Arlington in black limousines and town cars and hulking S.U.V.'s to meet one another, to meet Jesus, to pay homage to the god of The Cedars.

There they forge “relationships” beyond the din of vox populi (the Family's leaders consider democracy a manifestation of ungodly pride) and “throw away religion” in favor of the truths of the Family. Declaring God's covenant with the Jews broken, the group's core members call themselves “the new chosen.”...'

Here's a non-public breakfast at the house:

And we were called to serve on Tuesday mornings, when The Cedars hosted a regular prayer breakfast typically presided over by Ed Meese, the former attorney general...Three women from Potomac Point, an “Ivanwald for girls” across the road from The Cedars, came to help serve. They wore red lipstick and long skirts (makeup and “feminine” attire were required) and had, after several months of cleaning and serving in The Cedars while the brothers worked outside, become quite unimpressed by the high-powered clientele. “Girls don't sit in on the breakfasts,” one of them told me, though she said that none of them minded because it was “just politics.”

The breakfast began with a prayer and a sprinkle of scripture from Meese, who sat at the head of the table. Matthew 11:27:
“No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” That morning's chosen introduced themselves. They were businessmen from Dallas and Oregon, a Chinese Christian dissident, a man who ran an aid group for Tibetan refugees (the Dalai Lama had been very positive on Jesus at their last meeting, he reported). Two ambassadors, from Benin and Rwanda, sat side by side. Rwanda's representative, Dr. Richard Sezibera, was an intense man who refused to eat his eggs or even any melon. He drank cup after cup of coffee, and his eyes were bloodshot. A man I didn't recognize, whom Charlene [the cook] identified as a former senator, suggested that negotiators from Rwanda and Congo, trapped in a war that has slain more than 2 million, should stop worrying about who will get the diamonds and the oil and instead focus on who will get Jesus. “Power sharing is not going to work unless we change their hearts,” he said.

Sezibera stared, incredulous. Meese chuckled and opened his mouth to speak, but Sezibera interrupted him. “It is not so simple,” the Rwandan said, his voice flat and low. Meese smiled. Everyone in the Family loves rebukes, and here was Rwanda rebuking them. The former senator nodded. Meese murmured, “Yes,” stroking his maroon leather Bible, and the words “Thank you, Jesus” rippled in whispers around the table as I poured Sezibera another cup of coffee.

Here's David Coe, the son of Doug, and the heir apparent of the Family:

'...He walked to the National Geographic map of the world mounted on the wall. “You guys know about Genghis Khan?” he asked. “Genghis was a man with a vision. He conquered”—David stood on the couch under the map, tracing, with his hand, half the northern hemisphere—“nearly everything. He devastated nearly everything. His enemies? He beheaded them.” David swiped a finger across his throat. “Dop, dop, dop, dop.”

David explained that when Genghis entered a defeated city he would call in the local headman and have him stuffed into a crate. Over the crate would be spread a tablecloth, and on the tablecloth would be spread a wonderful meal. “And then, while the man suffocated, Genghis ate, and he didn't even hear the man's screams.” David still stood on the couch, a finger in the air. “Do you know what that means?” He was thinking of Christ's parable of the wineskins. “You can't pour new into old,” David said, returning to his chair. “We elect our leaders. Jesus elects his.”

He reached over and squeezed the arm of a brother. “Isn't that great?” David said. “That's the way everything in life happens. If you're a person known to be around Jesus, you can go and do anything. And that's who you guys are. When you leave here, you're not only going to know the value of Jesus, you're going to know the people who rule the world. It's about vision. 'Get your vision straight, then relate.' Talk to the people who rule the world, and help them obey. Obey Him. If I obey Him myself, I help others do the same. You know why? Because I become a warning. We become a warning. We warn everybody that the future king is coming. Not just of this country or that, but of the world.” Then he pointed at the map, toward the Khan's vast, reclaimable empire...'

The membership of the Family is a complete Who's Who of Washington politicians, lobbyists and corporate heads. They're the damn Freemasons of the 21st century, and if you've ever been curious as to why our foreign policy for the past seven years (and longer) has been such an unmitigated disaster, then you need to look no farther then this group of demented and delusional twits who are in charge of running it: The State Department has been outsourced to them.


It's been three hours since I posted this, and since then, two people have visited this blog from United States Senate IP adresses (including one who spent over half an hour reading this blog, and another who is online as I type this) and one from the US House of Representatives. Clearly a lot of people have Google alerts set up.

Welcome, folks. And yes, I vote.

Thursday, February 07, 2008


It appears that many people didn't get the LOLKramer reference posted yesterday. I thought about deleting the post, but since there was already a comment on it, I'm leaving it alone. So instead I'll give a brief explanation to those who don't know about LolCats because they spend less than 12 hours a day in front of their computer as I do.

From the Wikipedia Article:

'...Lolcat is a term used to describe an image combining a photograph of an animal, most frequently a cat, with a subjectively humorous and idiosyncratic caption in broken English referred to as Kitty Pidgin, Kitteh, or lolspeak. The idea originated on 4chan imageboards as Caturday. The name "lolcat" is a compound word of "lol" [laughing out loud - ed.] and "cat".The phenomenon is also referred to as cat macros. Lolcats are created for photo sharing imageboards and other internet forums. Lolcats are similar to other anthropomorphic animal-based image macros such as the O RLY? owl, and the term is often used as a catchall for images of the same genre which may or may not feature cats...

...These images usually consist of a photo of a cat with a large caption characteristically formatted in an uppercase sans serif font such as Impact or Arial Black. The image is, on occasion, digitally edited for effect. The caption generally acts as a speech balloon encompassing a comment from the cat, or as a description of the depicted scene. The caption is intentionally written with deviations from standard English spelling and syntax, featuring "strangely-conjugated verbs, but [a tendency] to converge to a new set of rules in spelling and grammar." These altered rules of English have been referred to as a type of pidgin or baby talk. The text parodies the grammar-poor patois stereotypically attributed to Internet slang. Frequently, lolcat captions take the form of snowclones in which nouns and verbs are replaced in a phrase. Some phrases have a known source while others seem to be specific to the lolcat form...'

The famous site for Lolcats is But the truly bizarre site under development is the Wiki project that is translating the entire Bible into Lolcat. The above phrase I superimposed onto Jesus in accordance with the graphic rules of Lolcat is Matthew 5:17-20.

Clearly this is all about people having too much time on their hands, and not enough imagination to spend volunteering it somewhere. But it is fascinating to me from the one respect of watching the development of a cohesive language grammar. The rules for Lolcat were developed in a very short period of time in the same way that all languages were - organically through a community. A community of computer geeks, true, but a community nonetheless, and its development is progressing in the exact same way that other pidgins have developed: ground-up; from the Hawaiian Creole English (a mash of native languages, English, Tagalog, Japanese and other languages resulting from a surge in immigration at the turn of the last century) to even Klingon (originally invented in outline by a linguist for the first Star Trek movie, but developed and massively expanded by a large coterie of fans.)

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Attack of the Wiener Dogs

Super Tuesday is over, and now that the dust has settled it looks like Clinton and Obama pretty much split things; Romney won his home states and little more; my favorite crazy man, Huckabee, cleaned up in the former Confederacy, once again proving to me that I never want to live there; and John McCain pretty much sewed up the Republican nomination.

Now there are plenty of those on the far right that are none too happy about this. Right wing blowhard pundits like Rush Limbaugh and Hugh Hewitt are all aghast that Senator McCain is the presumptive nominee, and the Religious right is apoplectic. In short the hard conservatives that backed Bush are seeing their own personal end of days.

Focus on the Family's James Dobson is a case in point. Yesterday he released a statement saying that if McCain's the nominee, he's going to take his ball and go home:

'...I am convinced Sen. McCain is not a conservative, and in fact, has gone out of his way to stick his thumb in the eyes of those who are. He has at times sounded more like a member of the other party. McCain actually considered leaving the GOP in 2001, and approached John Kerry about being Kerry's running mate in 2004. McCain also said publicly that Hillary Clinton would make a good president. Given these and many other concerns, a spoonful of sugar does not make the medicine go down. I cannot, and I will not vote for Sen. John McCain, as a matter of conscience...'

Rush Limbaugh and the long list of other assholes have pretty much said the same thing. Of course, now these folks have found themselves in an interesting predicament, namely that they are stuck with McCain as the nominee. So what will they do? Flip flop, or stick with what they have said?

Their only real play is to stick with what they said. Republicans have long odds to take the White House come November, and if the blowhards flip flop and support McCain, their influence as the far right media circus or the far right religious circus will be hurt. If, on the other hand, they sit the election out, and McCain still loses, then they can spin that McCain lost because they didn't back him, and you all damn well better listen to us king makers next time.

This all speaks of an understandable collapse in influence of those who supported President Bush most strongly. And the religious right is especially afraid. Dobson's desperate. And when he doesn't get his way, he takes it out on wiener dogs:

'...Please don't misunderstand me. Siggie is a member of our family and we love him dearly. And despite his anarchistic nature, I have finally taught him to obey a few simple commands. However, we had some classic battles before he reluctantly yielded to my authority.

The greatest confrontation occurred a few years ago when I had been in Miami for a three-day conference. I returned to observe that Siggie had become boss of the house while I was gone. But I didn't realize until later that evening just how strongly he felt about his new position as Captain.

At eleven o'clock that night, I told Siggie to go get into his bed, which is a permanent enclosure in the family room. For six years I had given him that order at the end of each day, and for six years Siggie had obeyed.

On this occasion, however, he refused to budge. You see, he was in the bathroom, seated comfortably on the furry lid of the toilet seat. That is his favorite spot in the house, because it allows him to bask in the warmth of a nearby electric heater...When I told Sigmund to leave his warm seat and go to bed, he flattened his ears and slowly turned his head toward me. He deliberately braced himself by placing one paw on the edge of the furry lid, then hunched his shoulders, raised his lips to reveal the molars on both sides, and uttered his most threatening growl. That was Siggie's way of saying. "Get lost!"

I had seen this defiant mood before, and knew there was only one way to deal with it. The ONLY way to make Siggie obey is to threaten him with destruction. Nothing else works. I turned and went to my closet and got a small belt to help me "reason" with Mr. Freud.

What developed next is impossible to describe. That tiny dog and I had the most vicious fight ever staged between man and beast. I fought him up one wall and down the other, with both of us scratching and clawing and growling and swinging the belt. I am embarrassed by the memory of the entire scene. Inch by inch I moved him toward the family room and his bed. As a final desperate maneuver, Siggie backed into the corner for one last snarling stand. I eventually got him to bed, only because I outweighed him 200 to 12!...'

That strange and demented tale of beating up a dachshund with a belt is and autobiographic quip from James Dobson's book, "The Strong Willed Child, a parenting handbook he wrote. This helps one understand the reaction of the religious right when they aren't obeyed. And it also explains the continued emnity between Wiener Dogs and the religious community:

So now Jesus has been kidnapped. The stakes are certainly getting higher.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Super Tuesday

One thing that does suck about living in New York City is that your vote rarely counts at the national level. New York is a Democratic powerhouse, so your vote pretty much gets lost no matter your political party. To top it off, usually at primary time the winner's already been decided, so all you're doing is wasting time by voting.

But this year is different, thanks to the accelerated primary season and the intense competition for delegates that is still going on. On the Democratic side, I was favoring Edwards, though I am predicting Clinton will take it. Now that Edwards is out, I voted for Obama, because no one who voted for the Iraq war is ever going to get my nod for anything. On the Republican side, it looks like my prediction of Romney taking it is not coming to pass, which is pretty much par for the course for my political predictions.

It's more fun in Arizona, though, thanks to some of the easiest ballot requirements of any state in the Union. There are over 20 people running for President on each side. Janni has the rundown of the Democratic side of lunacy, and she links to this site which covers all of the 'dark horse' candidates that are running for president. But by far the best is the Republican candidate for President, Bob Forthan.

Here is his platform, in it's entirety:

'Hello, I’m a two thousand eight republican candidate of the United States of America, and this is what I would do of I was elected, I’m not a lawyer, but my choice for Vice President is a lawyer, and if something happen to me he would stay the course, and he is a demo crate from Mass chutes.

Now I want to start America on a three hundred year odyssey to save the world by building Dome Homes, first in America, then around the world . Now the goal is to have a minimum standard of living around the world. Next I would used Americas military services build the dome homes.

However I can’t pay the current soldiers salary, and their will be no insurances of any type available, because Americas broke, I also wouldn’t be able to pay federal employees, except in critical areas, and they would be replaced with cheaper labor. Next I would tell the nation Americas broke and the nation well be a cash only transaction country, then I would explain what is a cash only transaction country, their well be no use of credit, debts cards, no personnel checks cash transactions, except bank cashers checks, and employers checks over two thousand dollars and taxed at the current rate, and the people making less than two thousand dollars and paid in cash no taxes and no social security numbers to work in America, and their will be a federal sales tax for all American, and tax refund for people making more than two thousand dollars a month.

Next I would tell the nation there is no insurances to fall back on, the invention of insurances have cause a national security crises because everything is inflated due to insurances, also insurances inflate the cost of goods causing people to work long therefore causing pollution.

Furthermore, I would tell the world Americas broke and we can’t pay our debts but America will pay twenty-five percent of what owed to them or nothing because of Americas financial problems, and Americas new goals to greenhouse gases, no gun control, which is one of the most important, would you travel out at night if their was no gun control, and no insurances would you buy a one, two, or a three hundred thousand dollar house if their was no insurance, or a fifty thousand dollar Hummer, the building of Dome Homes structures that house less than five thousand people, cash only transactions, no credit, debt used no personal checks cashed, and a minimum standard of living for all.

Next I would tell all the retirees Americas broke, and Federal employees will have a one time offer of receiving fifty percent of all the money paid into their retirement systems or nothing I can only hope the states, and private retirement systems will follow, and for the same reasons, I told the world, Americas broke.

America will file bankruptcy, because we are broke, and the courts will repay all if their any left, this action will help save the environment.

Last I will need a new army with a new mission,” OPERATION GLOBLE L WARMING”, which is building Dome Homes and taming the nations deserts, and then the worlds deserts, also I would withdraw up to ninety-five percent of all troops around the world.'

On the plus side, he isn't that much less articulate than the current Republican president, and his platform makes about as much sense. And it's less vile than Huckabee's wanting to sodomize everyone with a flagpole.